Husain Abdullah is a devout Muslim. He’s also a safety for the Chiefs, and he made a promise to himself if he ever did find himself in the end zone.
“If I get a pick, I’m going to prostrate before God in the end zone,” Abdullah said.
Early in the fourth quarter, Abdullah dropped deep in a zone coverage, read Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s eyes and broke hard, intercepting his pass.
Abdullah then dashed 39 yards to the end zone, slid on his knees and bowed in prayer.
His celebration drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, but the NFL said Tuesday that Abdullah should not have been penalized.
The league’s rule book prohibits players from celebrating while on the ground, but spokesman Michael Signora wrote in an email Tuesday that “the officiating mechanic in this situation is not to flag a player who goes to the ground as part of religious expression, and as a result, there should have been no penalty on the play.”
There are exceptions made for religious expressions, such as Tim Tebow’s prayer while kneeling. But Abdullah may have drawn the flag by sliding with both knees into the prayer.
“For me, I just got a little too excited,” Abdullah said. “I think it was for the slide.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil liberties and advocacy organization, issued a statement early Tuesday asking that the NFL take steps in response to the penalty.
“To prevent the appearance of a double standard, we urge league officials to clarify the policy on prayer and recognize that the official made a mistake in this case,” CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said.
Game officials didn’t say anything to Abdullah after the play, but Chiefs coach Andy Reid did when Abdullah came to the sideline.
“He said, ‘You can’t slide,’” Abdullah said.
Although Reid isn’t sure that should be the case.
“When you go to Mecca, you should be able to slide wherever you want,” Reid said after the game. “We’ve got two priests in here. They’d probably vouch for me.”
The interception — the sixth of Abdullah’s career — was still a special moment despite the penalty, which sparked controversy on social media.
Abdullah has a special place in mind for the football he intercepted from Brady, a future Hall of Famer.
“That’s nice,” Abdullah said. “That’s definitely going up in the house. That’s a ball that’s definitely going up in the game room area, so it was amazing.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.